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Romania Revisited: Barking Dogs, Corruption and Poverty

September 6, 1993

Undated (AP) _ By VIOREL URMA Associated Press Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - The clock strikes midnight. Suddenly, a dog starts barking across the street. Others respond, filling the air with a cacophony of yelps and bayings. A howl comes from a distance.

This is Bucharest, once known as the ″Paris of the Balkans,″ trying to get some sleep after another hot, dusty day. Faced with a crime explosion unparalleled in their history, wary Romanians are keeping dogs in their yards and apartments to frighten off potential burglars.

″Electronic alarm systems are too costly. Everything that has four legs and barks is just as good,″ said Mircea Pascu, 49, whose car was broken into one night in his front yard. ″If there are no intruders, dogs bark at stray cats to keep in shape.″

Inflation of 200 percent a year, higher taxes and the loss of more than 1 million jobs through market-oriented reforms have contributed to growing poverty and lawlessness. According to government statistics, 31 percent of Romania’s 23 million people are below the poverty line.

Many Romanians want to bring back the death penalty, which was abolished after Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in December 1989. The number of murders and attempts has tripled since then, to 1,500 last year. Thefts, robberies and rapes are skyrocketing.

Some say Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu’s government, dominated by former Communists, is guilty of economic mismanagement and is not doing enough to stop the violence.

World Bank officials recently postponed $187 million in loans for Romania because of its slow progress on economic reform.

The Association of Romanian Journalists has urged the media to stop reporting on government activities. It accused Vacaroiu and his Social Democracy Party of ignoring press reports that prominent members of the government are involved in illegal deals.

″Most of the government members are old politicians who still think they can simply carry on undisturbed, no matter what the press reports,″ said Dumitru Tinu, editor of the daily Adevarul (Truth).

In one of the many corruption cases, Cristina Tincu, a Cabinet counselor, sought to sell government homes set aside for foreigners for bribes totaling $100,000 over the price of the hard-sought residences but was caught by police. In the biggest political scandal this summer, Romania’s commercial shipping fleet, appraised at $650 million, was sold to a Greek shipping company for $335 million. Media reports and opposition politicians said government officials accepted bribes to approve the deal.

Vacaroiu, himself accused in the press of influence-peddling, has said 29,000 cases of official corruption are under investigation.

President Ion Iliescu has urged Parliament to pass ″a new anti-corruption law, vital for the cleansing of our society,″ that would stiffen sentences.

Cleansing Romanian society will not be easy.

After Gen. Gheorghe Florica, head of a special anti-corruption police unit, gave Parliament a report last spring on widespread official wrongdoing, he was fired on grounds that he lacked knowledge of economics.

″Seeing how many we are now, it would be easier to eradicate honesty,″ said a cartoon in the daily Romania Libera. It depicted thieves gathered around a table, counting loot.

Romanian cities, like others in eastern Europe, have undergone a capitalist facelift to accompany introduction of a free market.

Bucharest’s rundown streetcars have been repainted and carry posters advertising Marlboro cigarettes and Xerox copiers.

Travel agencies offer trips to Singapore and Thailand for $1,800, or the average wage for 26 months. Average pay for a month will buy only a man’s suit or three pairs of shoes.

In Mamaia, a Black Sea resort, a billboard that formerly welcomed tourists with ″Long Live the Romanian Communist Party″ now proclaims ″L and M - American Quality Aroma.″

In a Western-style store chain called International Business System, Samsung color televisions sell for $880 and Philco refrigerators for $440.

Those prices are out of reach for most Romanians, but not for the new rich: entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and corrupt officials.

″There’s a general feeling of frustration,″ said Adrian Bernic, a salesman in one of the stores. ″Before, there were empty store shelves, but people had money. Now, we’ve got goods and food, but people ran out of money. At least one can steal.″

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